Steve stood in front of his bedroom mirror and admired the fit of his new clothes. The black jeans slimmed his legs, and the white cotton shirt, which had cost him the best part of fifty pounds, made him appear older and, he liked to think, more sophisticated. More sophisticated than an eighteen-year-old shop boy who worked for his father, anyway.
He’d decided, shortly after selling Beau Mason a box of condoms, that tonight was the night he checked out that new gay-friendly club in town. He was taking a huge risk, but he wanted to see what the place would be like, wanted to know if he was attractive to other men. But more than anything else he wanted to know if he was attracted to anyone other than Beau Mason, who’d become just a pair of binoculars away from an obsession.
Steve’s sexuality had played on his mind a lot of the past few months. He longed to get away and explore that facet of his nature in privacy. Recently he’d learned a club in town had started hosting regular gay nights. Ironically enough, he’d found this out through his father.
There’d been a furor, and his father had signed a petition that detailed certain people’s objections in the strongest possible terms. Steve had been asked to sign a couple of times, but he always had something urgent to be getting on with elsewhere and had never quite found the time. His mother hadn’t signed either, as far as he knew, but then she wasn’t one for putting her name to silly little lists designed only to stop other people having fun. Steve wished he’d had the nerve to say something similar, but he’d only have got a lecture for his trouble.
The council had thrown the very skinny petition out because the club was not violating any laws, but that didn’t stop Steve’s father from complaining every chance he got. Steve entered the front room, braced for his parents’ reaction to his new clothes. His mother sat on the couch with her feet elevated, her attention glued to her favorite TV show. A packet of chocolate biscuits sat half-eaten in her lap. His father slumped in the armchair, sipping whisky while pondering the crossword in the Times.
Another typical Saturday night at Chez Chiverton.
He had to walk past the TV four times before his mother commented on his appearance.
“Stevie, you do look handsome,” she said, finally peeling her gaze from Inspector Frost.
“Are you sure you don’t have a date tonight?”
“No, Mum, I told you before. I’m going into town to meet Jason.” He turned to his father. “Dad, can I take the car?”
His father looked up from his crossword with a scowl. “What’s wrong with the bus?”
“I’ve missed the last one.” He hoped his father wouldn’t insist on being difficult again. He didn’t want to have missed that bus for nothing. “Plus your car’s cheaper than a taxi, especially after midnight.”
His father set his newspaper down. “The forecast still says snow is on its way. You’re better off staying home.”
According to his father, snow had been on its way for the past week, yet the skies and the ground remained clear. Steve moved to the window and looked out onto the street. Everything remained dark and quiet. Not a sign of snow, and even if a two-foot drift suddenly materialized, Steve would walk to his destination. Although ten miles meant he wouldn’t get there until one in the morning.
“I’m only going for a couple of hours.”
“Will you be drinking?”
His father kept his eyes trained on the crossword. “You usually do when you go out with Jason.”
Steve frowned. He never had more than two beers when he went out with Jason. Jason always got drunk enough for the pair of them anyway.
“I won’t be tonight. I know I’m up at five to sort the papers.” Steve drew the curtain closed. “If I wanted to drink, I’d take the bus.”
Setting aside his obligations for the following day, alcohol wouldn’t be an issue tonight for two other reasons. One, Jason was only his cover story. He wasn’t going drinking with his pal. Two, he needed to keep a clear head. This was an experimental outing,
in more ways than one.
“Let him have the car, Geoff.” His mother reached for another chocolate digestive. “After all the work he’s put into the shop lately, he deserves a good night out. And don’t worry about coming home early either. Your father is giving you the day off tomorrow.”
“What? First I’ve heard of it.” His father straightened in the armchair, suddenly alert and not too happy about it either.
Since his mother’s accident, Steve had quickly got used to getting up at five every morning for the paper delivery. He’d been doing it a month now and thought he was probably entitled to a day off. Plus now his parents had more time to spend together. They weren’t getting any younger, and Steve didn’t mind taking the pressure off, especially since he was earning while he did so.
“That’s all settled, then.” His mother crunched down on another biscuit. Conversation over.
His father muttered something Steve didn’t quite catch, but didn’t sound too pleasant. With his next breath, he reached into his trouser pocket and withdrew the keys to the family car.
* * * *
Steve parked around the corner from the bar in case anyone should happen by and see Geoff Chiverton’s Range Rover parked outside a club on gay night.
The gray-brick building still looked like a church, apart from the TEMPTATION sign above the door. Its former role as a place of worship was the main reason behind his father’s objection. That was the official story. Now he bad-mouthed the place any chance he got. Steve thought it best not to spend time thinking about what he’d say if he happened to discover exactly where his only son was tonight.
Steve joined the tail end of a small queue gathered outside. His stomach churned in nervous excitement. He pulled the collar of his jacket up to his ears, more to shield his identity than to protect himself from the freezing weather. He sweated like a warm onion.
The people in front of him were obviously straight. Two couples made up of one guy, one girl, hands firmly clasped. He hoped this wasn’t a taste of what awaited inside: a gay night full of straight people. The last thing he wanted to do was bump into someone he knew and spend the evening pretending to lust after the women. The girls were attractive enough with their long, shiny hair and slim, elegant legs, but he’d given up waiting for his hetero hormones to curb his lust for boys. Or men. Men like Beau Mason.
A vision of Beau’s delicate beauty seeped through the barrier he’d set up in his mind. No.
He would not think of Beau tonight. He wanted reality, not fantasy. He wanted to meet a nice guy who would understand him and love him and be there for him. What he wanted, more than anything, was a proper boyfriend. He wasn’t yet sure how to obtain one or what he’d tell his father when he did, but he didn’t need to worry about that too much right now. First he had to get used to sneaking out to gay bars alone.
The queue moved along, and when his turn came to step inside, the doorman gave him the once-over. Steve kept his ID in his wallet, but they simply waved him through. His new clothing proved to have been worth every penny.
The dance floor was already packed, the dancers bathed in pink spotlights. Steve ran an eye over the men, trying to sort the few gays from the many straights. There were men in T-shirts, fit men with muscular arms, older men with beer bellies, men with cropped hair and men with beards, men who stood close together, lightly touching like friends—or lovers. Steve couldn’t tell.
Disgusted with his own cluelessness, he decided to get himself a drink. A streak of white caught his eye, and he stopped to admire the guy in a close-fitting white shirt, leaning against a post, gazing longingly at the dancers. He looked to be around Steve’s own age, maybe a touch older, with fair, frizzy curls and a soft, plump face that some might find far too pretty.
He’d asked precisely one person to dance before: a girl at the school disco when he was fifteen. She obliged, but he must’ve crushed her tiny feet with his size twelves at least ten times before she gave up and hobbled away. He wanted the second time he asked for a dance partner to end on a far more positive note. And perhaps even a kiss at the end of the night. He supposed he should start by offering the guy a drink first. A good excuse as far as icebreakers went. He sauntered over, back straight, arms swinging easily as he imagined any man comfortable with his sexuality might, and stopped right in front of his target. A wide pair of puzzled eyes stared back at him, glinting silver beneath the lighting.
“Hi.” He raised his voice to carry above the music. “I’m Steve. What can I get you to drink?” The direct approach might give less room for refusal.
The guy smiled, which Steve took as a positive sign. “Thanks. I’d like a Bacardi Breezer. Lemon, preferably, and a mineral water.” He delved into his pocket and brought out a crumpled tenner. “How much?”
Steve’s mind trailed back to when Beau Mason had asked him the exact same thing earlier that afternoon at the shop. He stared at the ten-pound note and then down at himself, failing to register what part of his new outfit made him a waiter. “I meant,” he said slowly, carefully, “I’d like to buy you a drink.”
The note remained between them until the guy had the sense to return it to his jeans. “I’m so sorry. I misunderstood.” A blush crossed his plump cheeks. “It’s sweet of you to ask.”
Again, not the reaction Steve had hoped for. Was a drink still required? Why did this have to be so complicated? If he had any sense, he’d slink off and stew in his shame, although apparently he’d checked his common sense at the cloakroom door along with his jacket.
“Do you come here a lot?” Steve vowed the next time he attempted to talk to a good-looking guy, he’d have at least one original chat-up line prepared beforehand.
“Not really.” The guy wrinkled his cute button nose. “Only a couple of times before.”
“This is my first time,” Steve blurted out, then shut his mouth quick. Might as well announce his virginity and be done with it.
The guy gazed at him steadily, like he didn’t quite know what to make of the big oaf looming over him. “It’s very laid-back here. And friendly.”
“That’s good,” Steve said with too much enthusiasm. “I’m looking to make some new friends.”
The guy didn’t answer. Instead he glanced to his left, then to his right, as if searching for something. Or someone. A rescue party, perhaps.
“I’m Steve,” Steve repeated in case it hadn’t been caught the first time around.
“Dan.” He returned his attention to the gyrating clubbers.
“Would you like to…?” Steve gestured to the dance floor.
“Oh, no. I can’t. But thanks for asking.” He smiled and cast his gaze among the crowd. “I’m waiting for my boyfriend.”
That figured. Steve had picked out the prettiest guy here on which to unleash his dubious charms. Why wouldn’t
there be a boyfriend?
Steve tried not to sound too disappointed but failed miserably. “I didn’t know you were with someone.”
“I’m sorry for wasting your—”
“What the fuck is going on?”
Dan disappeared, and an irate-looking ginger bloke took his place, a bottle of Bacardi Breezer in one hand and a mineral water in the other. Dan had wanted two drinks earlier. Why hadn’t that clicked in Steve’s head before now?
“Who’s this?” The ginger bloke nodded at Steve.
“Steve.” Dan peeked out from behind his boyfriend’s back. “He’s looking to make some new friends.”
“Yeah?” The ginger guy’s upper lip curled into a sneer. His disapproving glare traveled all the way down to Steve’s toes, then all the way back to eye level. “Good luck with that.”
“Terry, you’re so mean.” Despite his words, the smallest of smiles flitted on his lips.
Steve could take a hint. The ginger guy handed Dan one of the bottles, then clasped his waist to draw him closer. They kissed. Not a tonsil-and-tongue session, exactly, but firm enough that Steve understood the guy’s territory had been well and truly marked.
He kept a firm hold of the image as he retreated into the crowd. He’d never seen two men kiss before. Were Dan and his boyfriend that affectionate together on the street? Would Steve one day summon the nerve to kiss his future boyfriend in public or hold hands like a regular couple? It seemed doubtful he’d ever have the chance to find out, although it was still early and there were other guys around, plenty of straight guys, and guys who already had boyfriends, and plenty of guys just walking around him like he was one of the pillars holding up the ceiling.
Taking a couple of deep breaths to calm himself, Steve focused on the various ways in which he might attract some male attention. Scanning the dance floor, looking for someone available, he decided to drop his standards by several levels. No one as attractive as Dan frequented clubs alone. Steve wished he knew that ginger bloke’s secret. If it was all about performance in the bedroom, Steve was at an immediate disadvantage. He’d never so much as kissed a guy before.
His gaze eventually settled on a figure whose hair shone like platinum beneath the lights. Then it glowed pink. Then white. Then pink. The guy danced with his back to Steve, in a thin black sweater and smart, slim-leg jeans. He waved his hands wildly in the air, his lithe body swaying with the beat. Best of all, he didn’t appear to be with anyone. Just as Steve started forward, the dancer turned around. Their eyes locked, and Steve realized how wrong he’d been.
Dan was not the most beautiful guy at the club, not by a mile. Beau Mason was.